A flaw in Marx and Hayek

51ub7qfxqgl-_sy344_bo1204203200_“It is strange that two authors that have provided us with the deepest understanding of the workings of modern capitalism, Marx and Hayek, have little to say about specific economic policies. Marx advocates the broad but undetailed policy of central or collective planning and public ownership. Hayek’s policy stance is diametrically opposed to that of Marx but is hardly less bland: we are offered the generalities of more market competition and extended private ownership. Hayek, like Marx and his followers, has very little to say in detailed, policy terms. The common blindness to varieties of capitalism disables their theoretical systems in policy terms.

The way out of this difficulty is to place the detailed analysis of capitalist institutions and of national and corporate cultures at the centre of the stage. Institutional economics thus provides a fruitful approach to the formulation of relevant and operational economic policies. With the notable exception of Veblen, many leading institutionalists in the past have been deeply involved in the development of economic policy. Much of this work was based on empirical study, but there is no reason why work in the future should not be guided by the deepest theoretical and methodological insights. Instead of empty formalism there is the possibility that economics may thus be capable of providing inspiration and sagacious guidance for those in government, finance and business.”

Geoffrey M. Hodgson (1999), Economics and Utopia, p.148

There is much to admire and draw on in Hodgson’s reboot of ‘old institutionalist’ economics, which focuses on the analysis of institutions as social structures, providing the basis of routinised and habitual behaviour in evolving economies, not least under capitalism. They can potentially be changed by purposeful human action or agency, so theories such as these are irreducible to either the rational individual of neoclassical economics, or the social individual whose behaviour is determined by society, as in extreme versions of holism.

Instead we have the dynamic interaction of human agency (individual or otherwise) and social structure (including institutions) which together determine the evolution of society and the economy. This framework is sufficiently broad to allow ideas which draw on such diverse thinkers as Marx, Keynes, Veblen and Hayek. While this may not overturn the dominant mainstream neoclassical economics, in my view it helps to inform a far richer alternative political economy.

For those who are interested, Hodgson’s refreshing New Politics blog can be found here.

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One thought on “A flaw in Marx and Hayek

  1. Great quote. I like your comment. Thanks for drawing my attention to Hodgson’s (for me new) blog, and his forthcoming book, which appears to focus on a topic that I find myself rather preoccupied with.

    At a time when I open up to the ideas of the left, I discover that the left has spectacularly betrayed its great concerns and its clientèle in the past 30 years (and, like the pope, borrowed green ideology to lend religious oomph to its various postures). Why did this happen?

    I feel like I’ve come too late to the party — the sensible ideas of the left, like demand management and opposition to neo-liberalism and their chief concern for the working population, are no longer fashionable with them. It strikes me as vital that the left begin to turn a critical eye to their own surprising vicissitude.

    Also, I used to be a great admirer of Hayek; however, over the past years, I have become disillusioned with him — to the point where I almost look at Hayek as a charlatan. It is interesting how acceptance of only a few key assumptions — for instance that a good society must be a spontaneous order and conscious interference in that order must be mostly detrimental — can blind a person to many important insights of differing implications and make her inclined to take dubitable propositions for deep insights by virtue of their fitting into an expected pattern of explanations.

    I have summarised much of my criticism of Hayek in a series of posts under the title The Paradox of Freedom: http://quaesivi.blogspot.de/2016/03/the-paradox-of-freedom-1-austrian.html

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